There will probably not be another February surprise for the Orioles. As spring training got under way and several free agents with draft pick loss attached to their signings were still jobless, the O's were able to pounce and get Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz at the cost of their first two draft picks. The only remaining free agents in that pool this year are Max Scherzer and James Shields. It's tough to imagine what circumstances would be required for the O's to sign either one.
That makes for a boring offseason, but it'll make for an interesting 2015 draft for the team. A year after they did not get to select a player until #90 overall, the O's are now going to be relatively flush with picks, with four picks to make in the first 73 draft spots. The highest of those is #26 overall, so they still won't be picking from the top tier of draft prospects. They will, however, get to take several shots at the next tiers of player.
In the current draft pool spending system, having several picks within the first couple of rounds is significant because it gives a team more bonus pool money to play around with. Each draft slot in the first ten rounds has a value attached to it. If a team's total spending exceeds their pool by more than 5%, they start to surrender draft picks in future years.
As a result of forfeiting two picks in the Jimenez and Cruz signings and trading the competitive balance pick to Houston, the O's had the lowest pool of all 30 teams in the 2014 draft, with only $2,204,400 available to pay to players.
Here are the O's current picks in the 2015 draft, along with the slot value from last year's pick at that spot:
|Team Pick #
|2014 Slot Value
* Assumes that Scherzer and Shields sign with teams who will forfeit a first-round draft pick in order to sign them. The first pick could be from 24-26, with the compensation pick for losing Cruz being from 36-38 overall.
The actual slot value will probably be slightly higher than it was this year. It should be very close, though. It is significant that the first pick they will get to make has a slot value that nearly equals their entire pool from last year. That's almost $5 million just from their first four picks, more than double what they had available in the most recent draft. In all, the values of next year's Orioles pick slots from this year's draft is just about $7 million.
Not only will they have four chances to draft a player before they'd even picked in the 2014 draft, but they'll also have the opportunity to play around with their pool money. In the draft pool system, if a team doesn't sign a player in the first ten rounds, that money is lost from their pool.
The Astros came up against this in the 2014 draft after they backed out of their agreement to sign #1 overall pick Brady Aiken, which left them hanging in their attempt to sign their fifth round pick, Jacob Nix, for an overslot $1.5 million bonus. Without Aiken signing at all, they would have had to forfeit a first round pick in 2015 to sign Nix. They ended up with neither Aiken nor Nix, although they get the #2 overall pick this year as compensation.
If the Orioles wanted, they could try to make the system work for them in this way. Suppose a high school player who would require $2.5 million to sign him away from a college commitment fell below the first 15 picks, which is where the slot value is that amount or higher.
Supposing they really liked that player, the Orioles could draft him with their first round choice at #24-26. Then, with their second round pick at #67, they could draft a player who isn't a second round talent but would sign for $100,000 or less. That extra $700,000 or so would then be able to be used to sign the first round pick. They'd still be able to get a player in the late second round talent range with their #73 pick as well.
Having missed out on picking before the third round in 2014, the O's might be better off not worrying about overslot players and instead just taking players whose talent is in the range of where they are picking. If their scouting is good and they are able to develop those players into better prospects than their draft slot would suggest, that would be a plus for the organization.
Getting four chances to do that within the draft's first couple of rounds is not something the Orioles have gotten to do in recent years. The Cruz departure is the first time in the new draft rules that they've had a free agent who was worth a compensation pick. The next great Oriole could be waiting at any one of these draft positions. The Orioles only need to find him and draft him. It doesn't sound so hard when it's put that way. Drafting and developing ain't easy, though, as we know from watching the team for the last decade.
Sitting back and waiting to draft what could hopefully be the next wave of Orioles prospects isn't the most interesting way to spend an offseason, especially not while every one of the O's division rivals is out there making signings and trades. They even lost a free agent within the division in Andrew Miller, whom they gave up a top pitching prospect to another division rival in order to get for three months.
That's tough to absorb, but hey, as you might have heard, they DID just win 96 games, and Matt Wieters and Manny Machado will hopefully both be back and healthy, and if Chris Davis can bounce back...